Why Croquembouche Wedding Cake Needs to Be on Your Dessert Table

Unconventional cakes for the win.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
by
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Nov 09, 2023

Traditional wedding cake is great and all, but you should know there are so many other dessert options out there. And if you ask us, one of the chicest options is the croquembouche wedding cake. This is a French dessert, pronounced [crow-cuhm-boosh], made of cream puff delights that have made its way to the United States. It's not a new confection though. In fact, it's a wedding tradition to have this delicious tower at a French wedding. If you want to know more about what croquembouche is, how much it costs, how to serve it (it's easier than you think), its history and more, you've come to the right place. And guess what? We even included a (time-consuming but totally worth it) croquembouche recipe at the end, so keep reading so you can start baking ASAP.

In this article:

What Is Croquembouche? | Cost | How to Serve | History | Recipe | Croquembouche Wedding Cake Ideas

What Is Croquembouche?

"Croquembouche is the traditional French wedding cake. It's a tower of pastry puffs filled with pastry cream (vanilla being the most common), held together with caramelized sugar. It often features nougatine, a nut brittle, which is used for decor and as structural reinforcement," Nancy LaTart, Owner and Principal planner of Fête in France, tells us. And for our linguistics nerds, the dessert's name is a French portmanteau, a word that blends the sounds and meanings of two others, such as "brunch." The croquembouche translation is "crunch in the mouth."

Is Croquembouche a Wedding Cake?

Yes, croquembouche is a French wedding cake. Unlike a typical cake with sponge-like tiers, croquembouche is an arrangement of dozens of profiteroles, commonly known as cream puffs.

Croquembouche Wedding Cake Cost

The price range for a wedding croquembouche is typically $150 to $600. The wedding cake cost depends on how many cream puff pieces you want. Some pastry chefs charge $2 per cream puff, while others ask for $5. Make sure you speak with your potential baker about your desired croquembouche height and size so they can give you an accurate estimate.

How to Serve Croquembouche at a Wedding

Taking the first nibble from a croquembouche wedding cake may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Follow this one easy step when serving this French treat.

1. Dismantle the croquembouche.

Since you're not going the traditional route and doing a cake-cutting ceremony, you won't need a cake-cutting set. As the newlyweds, simply use your fingers and gently pry the top cream puffs from the croquembouche. For the guests' portions, we suggest you ask a server to use tongs to serve each guest at least three cream puffs. Have them work their way from the top to the bottom.

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2. Enjoy your croquembouche.

Feed each other pieces of cream puffs and get the same photo opp as couples who do a traditional cake cutting. If you have any leftovers, remember to ask whoever is in charge of dismantling the cake to put it in an airtight container for you to enjoy later. The croquembouche can be stored for one day, but as time goes on, the caramel will rehydrate and make the treat messy and sticky.

Croquembouche History

The history of croquembouche wedding cake is a unique one. From the royal table to your wedding dessert area, croquembouche has taken an amazing journey to get where it is today. Keep reading to learn where the confection got its start.

Croquembouche Origin

According to LaTart, a professional event planner since 2008, there are three origin stories for the croquembouche dessert. "The original inspiration is said to come from a Middle Eastern delicacy called the 'tower of paradise.' As for its popularity in France, some link it to the reign of King Louis XIV and others to Antoine Careme, an important 19th-century figure in French pastry." Historians believe that croquembouche was a centerpiece at every royal function, like weddings and grand banquets, during King Louis XIV's time. Because of that, many say the royal origin led to the sweet becoming a symbol of elegance and refinement in today's society.

Croquembouche Tradition

The croquembouche wedding tradition involves lots of fanfare since its reveal is a major event during the reception. Typically, at French weddings, the lights are dimmed in the room because sparklers surround the cake display. Two people, depending on its size, bring the French wedding cake out while upbeat music plays. After everyone's done cheering and marveling at the dessert, the newlyweds get to dig in.

How to Find Croquembouche Near You

"Major pastry houses, such as Ladurée and Lenotre, offer croquembouches, but they are also commonly available through special order with local pastry shops," LaTart explains. You can also search for a local baker or pastry chef who specializes in French desserts by using The Knot Vendor Marketplace.

Croquembouche Recipe

If you ask anyone, croquembouche is considered one of the most technically difficult things to bake. That being said, it doesn't mean there aren't home cooks that want to take on the challenge. Here's everything you need to create a tasty cake tower. This recipe is 14 servings and takes about two and a half hours.

Croquembouche Ingredients

For the craquelin (gives the cream puffs a round shape and textured surface):

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of light brown sugar
  • A pinch of kosher salt

For the pâte à choux (the dough):

  • 7 tbsp of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 5 large eggs, almost room temperature
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 tsp of kosher salt

For the vanilla pastry cream:

  • 6 tbsp of unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 5 large egg yolks, cold
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  • 1/2 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of cornstarch

For the final product:

  • 3 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • pâte à choux
  • pastry cream

How to Make Croquembouche

Okay, now it's time to get down to business. Put on your pastry chef apron and get ready to make a "Master Chef"-worthy dessert with this croquembouche wedding cake recipe—inspired by Claire Saffitz's method in her Dessert Person cookbook.

  1. Let's get it crackin' with the craquelin. Put your butter, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until you get a creamy and smooth texture. Then fold in your flour until you get a stiff dough. Take your dough, place it on parchment paper and fold it onto itself to ensure it's mixed evenly.
  2. Next, divide the dough in half and roll each half between two pieces of parchment paper until it's about 1/8 inch thick. Using a one-inch round dough cutter, press into your dough and cut out as many pieces as possible. Separate the craquelins from the excess dough (you should have about 70), place them on parchment paper on a baking sheet, cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge until it's time to bake.
  3. Now for the pâte à choux. Put a small saucepan on low heat, add the milk, water, butter, salt and sugar and gently stir with a wooden spoon. Once the mixture is rapidly simmering, add the flour and immediately stir. Keep stirring until you can't see flour in the mix and a soft dough comes together (there should be a light film in the saucepan, which means you're on the right track). Continue stirring the dough until there's no film, and the dough is smooth. Set aside the dough to rest for a few minutes.
  4. Next, put your dough in a stand mixer bowl or large bowl if you're mixing by hand. Put the mixer on low/medium-low speed (or mix vigorously with a wooden spoon) and gently add one egg at a time to the dough––ensure the previous egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding another one. As you add each egg, the dough should become shiner and smoother. You can stop adding eggs if the mixture has become shiny, smooth, holds its shape and is thin enough that when you hold up your spoon or mixer paddle from the bowl the dough falls from it in a V-shape.
  5. Prep the oven and baking sheets. Put the racks at the upper and lower third of the oven and turn it on to 425°F. For your wedding croquembouche to have a solid structure, you want your cream puffs to be the same size. To ensure this, take a dark marker or pen and trace circles using the inside of a one-inch round dough cutter onto parchment paper a little more than an inch apart. You want about 35 circles per parchment sheet. Once finished, flip the paper ink side down so you can use the circles as a guide when you're piping the puffs.
  6. Pipe the cream puffs. Use a rubber spatula to put your dough in a piping bag and press out all excess air before sealing it. Cut off a small 1/2-inch opening on the piping bag. Put your marked parchment papers on baking sheets. Moving the bag isn't necessary. Instead, gently squeeze it until the circle is filled with a small mound of dough. If you have extra dough left, add more to the mounds that look a little small––you're putting in a lot of hard work, so don't waste anything.
  7. Put the cream puffs in the oven. Take your craquelins from the fridge and place one on each piped circled without pressing down. Put the cream puff baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven to 375°F. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until the cream puffs are golden brown. Switch the pans' positions and rotate them 20 minutes into cooking so each pan of puffs gets an even cook.
  8. Let's make the pastry cream. Add the milk, salt and vanilla into a medium-heavy bottom saucepan on medium heat and allow it to reach a simmer. While the previous mixture warms up, whisk eggs, sugar and cornstarch together in a medium bowl until it's thick and a pale yellow. Once the milk mix is ready, put a thick kitchen towel under the bowl and slowly pour about half of the milk into the bowl while whisking constantly––this helps the egg mix not curdle. Then, immediately whisk in all the egg mix into the saucepan. Keep whisking until the saucepan's contents become a pudding consistency. You know the pastry cream is overcooked if curds are in the mixture. Next, put a large mesh sieve over a large bowl and scrape the pastry cream into the sieve with a rubber spatula. Finally, whisk in the cold butter pieces one at a time into the pastry cream until it's evenly mixed, cover the bowl with plastic wrap (press it onto the cream's surface so a film doesn't form) and put the bowl in the fridge for at least four hours.
  9. Once the cream puffs are done leave them in the oven and keep the oven door slightly ajar for about 15 minutes to ensure the dough is completely dry. Remove the cream puffs from the oven and use the tip of a paring knife to make small holes at the bottom of each one. Continue to let the puffs cool.
  10. For your display base, use a large cake stand or serving plate and place a nine-inch round piece of parchment paper in the middle to help guide your croquembouche shape.
  11. Take your pastry cream out of the fridge, put it into a piping bag (doing the same process as before) and add a 1/4-inch round tip. Fill each puff with enough cream so it's solid but doesn't explode or have extra cream come out of the hole.
  12. Time to make the caramel (one of two batches). Add two cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of water to a small pot over medium heat. Stir this mixture with a spatula until the sugar dissolves. Once the pot's contents boil, use a wet pastry brush to reincorporate sugar crystals on the pot's sides. Continue cooking the sugar, gently swirling the pot the whole time, until it reaches a medium golden amber color. (Don't be afraid to lower the heat if the mixture is cooking too quickly.) Immediately take the pot off the heat and pour it into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup.
  13. Now let's dip the cream puffs. Doing one at a time, place only the surface of each puff craquelin side down into the caramel and set aside on a baking sheet. Try to work as quickly as possible because as the caramel cools, it starts to thicken and become less useable. You'll have to make a second batch of caramel for the last step. Do the same process as before using 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of water.
  14. We're in the home stretch now...let's assemble. Put 10 cream puffs, caramel side up, in a circle using the parchment paper to help visualize your cone shape on your display. Take one puff at a time and dip the widest side of it into the new caramel batch. Gently place each cream puff on its side at an angle towards the center, so the bottom of it is facing inward, and hold it there until the caramel hardens. Put each of them on the outer part of the parchment paper until the first ring is complete. Keep doing this step with each ring while decreasing the number of puffs by one so you create a cone shape. Use your smallest cream puffs to fill in gaps in the structure. You should have one cream puff left for the top.
  15. Dip a fork into the remaining caramel and swirl it around the croquembouche structure. Keep making thin threads of caramel around the cake until you're satisfied with how it looks. (Quick tip: if the caramel in the bowl has hardened put it in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it back to life.) You should immediately serve the croquembouche, but you can keep it in the fridge for one day.

Croquembouche Wedding Cake Ideas

Want some inspiration for your future traditional French wedding cake? Use the seven ideas below to show your baker or to add to your freshly baked croquembouche.

Three-Tier Wedding Croquembouche

Three-tier wedding croquembouche
Photo: Justin & Mary

We love this modern croquembouche wedding cake. Instead of being a connected cone, the to-be-weds requested one with divided tiers with pink roses.

Lemon Croquembouche Wedding Cake

Including a French element in their celebration was on their wedding to-do list. That's why the happy couple ordered a wedding croquembouche, which also played off their lemon theme with its lemon curd filling and candied lemon adornments.

Classic Croquembouche Pastry

Classic croquembouche wedding cake
Photo: Margot Landen Weddings
,
Cake: Componere Fine Catering

At this vintage-themed wedding, it only makes sense to include something timeless. The perfect caramel threads around the croquembouche are breathtaking.

Croquembouche Adorned With Roses

These newlyweds opted for something different for their croquembouche pastry. Instead of the typical caramel exterior, they got a delicious honey glaze.

Glamorous Croquembouche Dessert

You can't tell us this croquembouche wedding cake isn't calling your name. We love the large candied strawberries placed in the spaces between the cream puffs.

Coral-Colored Croquembouche

Having a wedding croquembouche doesn't only have to be for the look. To honor the groom's French heritage, the couple had a vibrant one at their wedding.

Traditional French Croquembouche

Traditional French croquembouche wedding cake
Photo: Fidan Kandemir Photography,Cake: Cote Gastronomique

If you want to go all out and celebrate like a French newlywed, copy this display. No croquembouche wedding cake is complete without a sparkler show.

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